The Last Man on Earth (1964)
Do you dare to imagine what it would be like to be... the last man on earth... or the last woman?
Year of Release: 1964
Also Known As: L'ultimo uomo della Terra, The Damned Walk at Midnight
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 86 minutes (1:26)
Director: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow
Vincent Price ... Dr. Robert Morgan
Franca Bettoia ... Ruth Collins
Emma Danieli ... Virginia Morgan
Giacomo Rossi Stuart ... Ben Cortman
Umberto Raho ... Dr. Mercer
Christi Courtland ... Kathy Morgan
Carolyn De Fonseca ... Ruth Collins (voice) (uncredited)
After a plague wipes out the human race, Dr. Robert Morgan struggles with loneliness - and his sanity as the monotony of the unending days, broken only by his daily hunts for vampires! One day on his solitary travels he runs across another human: is she a mirage, or real?
The Last Man on Earth, remindin' us never to go to church when you're tired. Seriously. Cause if you fall asleep in church (an let's face it, if you don't have at least three Jesus bumper stickers on your car, there's a good chance you will) you're gonna wake up to a pack of dead-eyed weirdos out for your blood on account of you bein' an abomination unto the big guy. Plague or no plague, Vincent Price really shoulda known better'n to use the pulpit for a hammock, cause zombies hate that. An speakin' of sacrilege, we had a heck of a mess at the Grime Time last night after Skunky Hernandez' cattle tore down the fence separatin' his pasture an the drive-in parkin' lot. Somethin' musta really spooked those cows, cause they charged right through the fence like Pete Rose through an anemic catcher an proceeded to mill around the cars until the movies were over. Some of 'em were so scared they tried climbin' inside the cars through people's windows an ended up causin' several dozen dollars in damages to folks' vehicles. Course, it was pretty funny watchin' Buster McGarnagle try rollin' the window of his old Buick up with the cow's head still in it. Cow completely freaked out an ripped the glass right out of it, which wouldn't normally be that funny, except for the fact that Buster's a dickweed. It was kinda obnoxious tryin' to hear Vincent's voice over all the mooin', but once folks' kids started feedin' the cattle their nachos they settled right down. Sides, we're not the kinda people to cancel a movie just cause there're a few barnyard animals loose on the premises. What really sucks about it is that now I'm assigned to varmint sniper duty since I watch all the flicks from up on the deck of the projection booth. Not that there's enough light to see more'n two feet in front of your face up there, but I guess it makes the patrons feel safer. Kinda like how airplanes have literature about how to execute an evacuation at 25,000 feet, ya know? You're no less dead, but it makes you feel better to know that the airline has a plan in place for how to deal with your imminent demise. Anyway, now Skunky's got me, Duke Tankersley, Cleave Furguson, an Billy Hilliard goin' out on a snipe hunt at 4 in the AM tomorrow to track down whatever scared the cattle. Which pretty much means killin' anything big enough to take out a deer that doesn't spend its entire day eatin' grass, so it's gonna be a long weekend. Could be worse I guess, cause somebody's still gotta shovel up after the 120 frightened cows that spent the night servin' up panic patties all over the lot. Ain't gonna be me neither, cause I told Skunky that bovine buttstew removal exceeded the terms of our business arrangement. Plus Apollo always wants to roll in it, an I ain't spendin' what little free time I got scrubbin' it offa the big dope.
Kind of a lousy way to watch one of the best movies Skunky's ever gonna be able to show when he's limited entirely to public domain flicks, but I'm pretty sure I got all the important details worked out even with the mooin' an the occasional "Mommy, how come that cow's riding that other cow?" remarks derailin' my train of thought. Pretty significant flick in the annals of science fiction too, what with all the symbolism an philosophical subtext an what not. So in light of that, I'd like to share a few of the tangents my mind went off on while watchin' this thing, cause after all, this's a thinkin' man's horror flick, an we could all stand to do a little thinkin' now an then. First, if you're a necrophiliac, the idea of bein' the last livin' person on Earth must be quite the turn on. Second, tryin' to keep a woman off the phone is harder'n keepin' kids outta their parents' underwear drawers when they go out to dinner. An third, it must really suck to be an Italian vampire. I mean, what's the point of even HAVIN' spaghetti or pizza when you can't eat garlic? Bein' in love with somethin' you know's gonna kill ya eventually ain't healthy, an if you don't keep a handle on it you'll end up like poor Phil Hartman. But if you think that's depressin', I'm here to tell ya that's nothin' compared to what happens when the only country to discover a vaccine for an airborne plague ends up bein' Italy. Cause you'll notice in the movie how their scientific curiosity gets thrown out like leftover pasta the moment somebody starts messin' with La Famiglia. I mean, Vincent Price is runnin' around healthy as a horse, with no leprosy, no sun sensitivity, an no desire to drink anybody's blood with a nice minestrone, right? Seems like this aughta be pretty significant considerin' he's the first guy the Italians've seen alive in several years, but just cause he's staked a few dozen of their dermatologically desiccated cousins to the ground like lawn flamingos, they go from Marie Curie to Charles Bronson in less time than it takes to realize a fart wasn't entirely gas. That ain't gonna help nobody. Now, in contrast, if the cure was discovered by the French, there'd just be a slight waitin' period while they held their pointy noses up high to bask in their self-perceived sense of genetic superiority. We've come to expect that, an could live with it pretty easily. Likewise, say Britain finds the cure for the problem of undead mutant vampires; the worst that happens is they stir it in with that food of theirs an force you to decide if the disease really is worse than the cure. Germany'd prolly just send out some mean-lookin' charismatic midget to shout the praises of their drug to the gathered masses an have everyone vaccinated in three minutes flat. But heaven help us all if the U.S. of A finds the solution first, cause we don't let little things like the end of the world get in the way of the profit margin. Ya know, I could swear there was a point I was tryin' to make earlier... ah well, easy come easy go.
The movie begins in this bleak, dreary, depressin' urban wasteland, where the only thing goin' for it is the fact that there ain't no people left except Vincent Price. Vince's still tryin' to sleep off the hangover he's had ever since his agent got 'im roped into appearin' in Beach Party, but he's been hangin' tough for the last three years ever since the world went down the ole toilet cause of an airborne plague that turns people into Carnival of Souls extras. Every mornin' Vince hasta go outside to scoop up the fresh corpses that weren't able to make it home before daybreak so they won't make big dead patches in his lawn, an then drive 'em out to this big smolderin' pit that's been burnin' since the world's bowels started churnin'. Sometimes he tries sendin' out messages over this ham radio that makes noises like somebody's squeezin' a killdeer to death in a vice, only nobody ever answers cause Vince has a voice that could creep out Amy Fisher. But for today, Vince hasta drive out to the grocery store an pick up enough cloves of garlic to make this gigantic Italian lei, an then pick up some mirrors to hang on his door cause apparently the vampire zombie freaks can't stand to see what's become of their Versace sport coats. Then Vince whittles out a fresh supply of wooden stakes with his lathe, loads up his duffle bag, an starts drivin' around town stakin' undead mimes in their beds, until the sun goes down an he hasta hide out at home while the spampires pound on his door an dribble disgustin' face herpe goo all over his welcome mat. One of 'em even calls 'im by name, but he's been dealin' with this for so long that it's basically the equivalent of havin' Jehovah's Witnesses come to the door, so he handles the situation the same way you would in the latter scenario; he cranks his tunes so he can't hear 'em. The next mornin' Vince decides to go to church so he can feel guilty about his dead wife, only he ends up takin' a little siesta that extends into "energy crash during college finals week," an by the time he wakes up it's way past curfew an there're psalmbies staggerin' into the church to see if Jesus is still givin' away cups of blood. Then Vince hasta beat up a buncha undead liberals who wanna carpool with 'im, run over all the zombies that broke through the plant defense system he had set up on his lawn, an force 'em to look at their cauliflowered faces in a mirror so he can get back into his house before Twilight Zone starts. By this point, the creeps outside have a real bad Nospheratude about missin' their best chance to eat Vince, but they're still at least six months of Soloflex workouts short of breaking an entering (they've got the aching an whimpering down pat though), so they mostly just bang on his siding while he gets depressed watchin' old home videos.
Then he starts flashin' back to the pre-apocalypse days where all the dialog hadda be dubbed cause Vince's memory wasn't recordin' audio at the time, but the idea is he's havin' a birthday party for his daughter an one of his co-workers (Ben) drops by with gifts an a newspaper clippin' about an airborne plague bein' spread faster'n a set of flabby thighs at a key party. Vince is skeptical for awhile, but he comes around when his wife an kid start goin' blind an havin' their faces slough off like the banks of an irrigation ditch durin' flood season. Fortunately, Vince an Ben work for the Italian C.D.C., so they keep swishin' liquids around in beakers an lookin' at slides of bug shrapnel that got scraped off the grille of a pickup tryin' to find a cure. Cept Ben's a little shook up by the reports of dead folks comin' back to life to harass their kids about havin' died before they got to have grandkids, an the fact that the people tellin' the stories've pretty well gone outta their minds tryin' to keep their cabinets stocked with Maxwell House. Then Vince goes home an sees this newscast on TV about how everyone's supposed to inform on their relatives if they start showin' plague symptoms or any signs of Jewish leanins, an Vince starts actin' like a Christian Scientist an forbids his wife from callin' a doctor for the kid cause he's afraid the doc'll snitch to the authorities an get the kid hauled off to the Soylent Green processin' center. This's where the ole craphole really starts gettin' backed up, cause now Vince can't get Ben to come to work no more cause he's got a crack in his logic center the size of the San Andreas, an he's decided to change careers an take a correspondence course to become a professional shut-in. So when Vince arrives at work alone to learn that everyone but he an the head egg-head've called in chickenshit, he ain't so much upset as he is disappointed. Then his evenin' gets all shot to hell when he heads home an sees one of the corpse wagons haulin' his daughter away, an he goes tearin' off after it an hasta watch 'er get fried like a Big Mac patty in this carcass campfire the military's ignited to burn the bodies. You'd think Vince's life couldn't get any worse, but then God leans over the side of His cloud, looks down at him, an accepts the challenge. That's about the moment where Vince's wife gives out on 'im an he gets this look on his face like the one Louis Creed got in Pet Sematary right before he buried Denise Crosby in the old Indian burial ground. Vince don't want the military to turn 'er into a brick oven pizza, so he takes 'er out to an old cow pasture to bury 'er, cept a few hours later while he's warmin' up leftovers there comes a knock at the door, an next thing you know Vince gets a full load in his pantaloons when Mommy comes marchin' home again.
Meanwhile, back in the present, the zombies're outside havin' an engine block party all over Vince's ride, so the next mornin' he hasta go down to the Ford dealership an pick out a new station wagon. Vince always shops there cause he really appreciates the no pressure approach. But when he gets home he spots this dog browsin' for a used power steerin' pump, an he goes chasin' it all over the city until he finds a buncha dead mutants staked out in the park an gets a little concerned since it's an area he's never been before. Then he goes home an finds the dog waitin' for 'im an brings 'im inside since he's gonna need somebody to fetch his paper once he gets society back on its feet again, cept when he takes a blood sample from a gash in its side he realizes he's got one of The Plague Dogs fartin' infected Hormel chili gas into the air he's breathin' an hasta give 'im a nice juicy stake an go bury 'im. But while he's out doin' that, he spots this chick (Ruth) out takin' 'er mornin' constitutional an captures 'er like a Pokemon Go sprite so he can take 'er home an force 'er to play House with 'im. Course, it's been awhile since Vince had a woman over, so he don't know that wavin' his Italian garlic lei in 'er face an accusin' 'er of bein' Broad Tepes isn't gonna improve his chances of gettin' into 'er pants, but she explains that she was just emotionally traumatized by a piece of garlic bread at Pizza Hut when she was a little kid so Vince'll cut 'er some slack. Then Vince explains that he's pretty sure he's immune to the plague cause he was bitten by a bat that musta passed the vampirism to 'im in a weakened state, thus makin' the bat a rabid flyin' syringe that inoculated 'im against the virus. Ruth hadn't heard a story that ridiculous since she wore a miniskirt into the Rome If You Want To singles bar, but she nods like it makes perfect sense an heads for 'er bedroom, where she tries shootin' 'erself up with a vial of somethin' an gets caught. Vince is P.O.'d, an he wants to know how in the name of modern medicine's medieval malpractice mandates she managed to get ahold of a vaccine. So she explains that she was assigned to spy on 'im by her group of contaminated comrades, cause the vaccine they came up with basically works like a burglar distractin' a dog with a tube of beef jerky, an that if she don't take it every 24 hours she's gonna be typecast in George Romero movies for the rest of 'er life. She also tells 'im that they're pretty P.O.'d, cause all those agoraphobic folks he's been impalin' like toothpicks into club sandwiches were their family members, an that they're comin' to raid his house an arrest 'im on 500 counts of hate crimes. Then she passes out after failin' to get 'er injection, so Vince decides to shoot 'er up with some of his blood just to see if the bat theory'll fly, an she wakes up about half an hour later with the ghoul drool cleansed from 'er gene pool. Gonna cut it off here, cause now the vampire vigilantes're at the door an I don't wanna spoil the endin'. It's in the public domain though, so there's a link below if you wanna check it out.
Alrighty, well, The Last Man on Earth was the first film version of the I Am Legend book written by Richard Matheson, and it's one of only a couple flicks to enter the public domain that is legitimately good. Apparently it fell into the public domain back in the 1980s, but it's one of those rarities that really makes you wonder exactly how that was allowed to happen. Granted, when a movie is well made and likeable, people will pay the extra money to get a good print of it on home video, but this thing's on several of those public domain 50 packs where the movie looks like it got run through a belt sander before they transferred it over to DVD, as a result of having its copyright expire. The book has been adapted for the movie screen four times (one of which is a 2007 direct to video flick that doesn't credit Matheson, so you can imagine how good it is), with The Omega Man being the best of the bunch. Charlton Heston, however, was apparently not impressed with The Last Man on Earth, as he said a whole slew of nasty things about it when he watched it prior to making The Omega Man. Now, I'll admit that The Omega Man is better, but it's not exponentially better, and I think Heston was completely wrong about it. I think that Last Man is vastly superior from an atmospheric standpoint, but The Omega Man is a lot more fun, because it's structured more like an Action movie and is thus better paced. I will say that The Last Man on Earth easily surpasses the third version of Matheson's story, which was I Am Legend with Will Smith. That one just makes you wish you'd watched 28 Days Later. Something else that's interesting about this movie is that the "vampires" are really more of a hybrid between vampires and zombies. They're slow, weak, and pale, but they definitely have more of their mental faculties than either voodoo or undead zombies, so they are referred to as vampires in the movie. If they couldn't talk, you'd definitely have to call them zombies, and George Romero obviously agreed, as he modeled his Night of the Living Dead zombies on the creatures in this film. It's a strange coincidence, too, that both this and Night of the Living Dead would fall into the public domain, despite each being highly successful. One could probably make the case that the director of this flick may have based the creatures' physical appearances on the zombies from Carnival of Souls, but any way you slice it, Carnival, Last Man, and NotLD were definitely the three titles that molded the zombie flick into what it is today. That's about the only thing significant about 1960s horror when you get right down to it, cause it was a pretty pathetic decade for genre titles.
Anyhow, let's stick this sucker under the microscope and find out if its been contaminated with Hollywood mainstream production values. The plot is a classic, and one that I've always liked a great deal. It's been done many times since 1964, but I really enjoy these "last person/small group of people alive" flicks. Admittedly, this particular title does have a few continuity errors (Price turns out the lights and goes into town, but comes back to find them on after escaping the vampires), and some instances of questionable logic - like Price forgetting to gas up his vehicle. I was also curious as to why, if he goes out hunting the vampires every day, he didn't just follow them home when they were having to retreat from the daylight or risk dying. Then there's the fact that Price injects his own blood into Ruth to vaccinate her against the disease, even though the odds of them having compatible blood types is pretty slim. In general, I can let most of this slide, but it does still need to be factored in when calculating the movie's score. The acting is excellent, with Vincent Price turning in what is to date my favorite of all his performances. All told I do prefer The Abominable Dr. Phibes, but I think Price is better in this. There's no denying that Price was almost always deliberately hammy in his acting, and frequently starred in movies with scripts that lent themselves to his acting style. But this is one of his more serious roles, and he proves that he can certainly pull off a sympathetic and brooding performance when called upon to do so. Of course, as the title suggests, there aren't many other noteworthy characters, but the small supporting cast isn't bad either. I will say that the dubbing is just awful, but that's to be expected in these Italian flicks where they don't record sound during filming.
Here's who matters and why, besides Vincent Price, who's kind of a legend: Giacomo Rossi Stuart (Kill Baby Kill, The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave, The Hell's Gate, War of the Robots, The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance, Death Smiles on a Murderer, Something Creeping in the Dark, The Weekend Murders, Snow Devils, War Between the Planets, Caltiki the Immortal Monster, The Day the Sky Exploded), Umberto Raho (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Eerie Midnight Horror Show, Night of the Devils, Baron Blood, The War of the Planets, Wild Wild Planet, The Long Hair of Death, The Ghost 1963), Antonia Corevi (An Angel for Satan, Hercules and the Masked Rider, Hercules Against the Moon Men, Hercules Samson & Ulysses, Samson and the Slave Queen), Ettore Ribotta (La bambola di Satana), Carolyn De Fonseca (The Fishmen and their Queen, Killer Crocodile 2, Alien from the Deep, Il giustiziere del Bronx, Demons 6: De Profundis, Phenomena, The Scorpion with Two Tails, Pieces, The New York Ripper, Piranha II, Absurd, The House by the Cemetery, Murder Syndrome, Anthropophagus: The Grim Reaper, Hell of the Living Dead, Macabre, Beyond the Darkness, Torso, Don't Torture a Duckling, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, Blade of the Ripper, Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror), Guiseppe Mattei (Giant of the 20th Century, Werewolf Woman, The Three Fantastic Supermen, Messalina vs. The Son of Hercules), Alessandro Tedeschi (Night of the Damned, Dottor Jekyll e gentile signora, Nazi Love Camp 27, Frankenstein all'italiana, Mission Stardust, Black Sabbath).
The special effects are rather scant, due to the movie's age and the fact that it's structurally a pot-boiler, and values atmosphere over gore. Of course, being in black and white, there wouldn't be much to see even if they had included some. Matter of fact, I don't remember any effects at all besides the vampire makeup, which is just white face paint that probably benefited a great deal from the movie being black and white. To their credit, the only dummies used in the movie appear during the scenes where the bodies actually roll down the hill into the inferno, though they are rather obvious. So yeah, not much to comment on here. The shooting locations are pretty good, although not as impressive as the ones utilized in The Omega Man. We do get a few shots of deserted freeways and city streets though, which are a critical component for a movie like this one. And while the sense of isolation isn't quite as strong as what you feel during the first half of The Omega Man, we still get plenty to convince us Vincent Price is alone. I'm not sure if they used the same set for Price's house both before and after the plague has killed off mankind, but they're similar enough that it's at least plausible, and it's interesting to see the contrast between the two after everything falls apart. Beyond the aforementioned locations, there's a deserted grocery store, mirror shop (apparently people were REALLY vain in the '60s), a park, a church, and a cemetery. All these locations enhance the mood of the movie, and all of them were well scouted. The soundtrack is a mixed bag. Some of the music is tense, suspenseful, and downright unsettling, but some of it is really dated even for the 1960s, and just comes across as loud and a bit distracting. I'd say about two thirds of running time feature good, atmospheric music that benefits the movie, while one third borders on obnoxious. Incidentally, the movie has two composers, so go figure. Overall, The Last Man on Earth is good, classic science fiction, and one of the best flicks made in the 1960s. So if you like The Twilight Zone, definitely check it out.